Teach Your Children Well...

I started writing this alphabetic exercise as a response to Neal Coolong's Hating on Athletes And Teams and The Crisis In Which Fans Are Engaged. This is my theory about the spark that ignites the flames of fury in the parents of Child Athletes. This post is simply a look at this issue through my eyes, colored with my experience. 1456 words. Read at your own risk. Sports and Steelers are mentioned...

I think a lot of the problems associated with parents and their athlete children, has to do with the way our society has changed over the past few decades. I won't debate morality on a sports site. I'm speaking more to the way winning/losing is seen today. Previous comments have spoken to this already; but we have become a country full of sore losers. Personally, I think a lot has to do with a newfound need for instant gratification. I remember when winning a trophy meant something; now everyone gets a trophy just for participating when it comes to youth athletics. Not that there aren't better prizes for the achieving, but the need to achieve so is not as "necessary".

When we progress from Little League to Junior Varsity; the rules on recognition change. Being on a Little League team is pretty common. Unless you live in an area with a high populus, chances are you make A team. As a child, I played in a few different areas. Some regions simply drew names; others would hold tryouts, followed by a coaches' draft. Even in the drafting scenarios, you still made A team.

I grew up loving Pittsburgh sports. I loved the Steelers; but if I ranked my favorite teams, from any sport, my beloved Steelers fell 2nd to the Pirates. Not that I necessarily liked the Buccos more than the Steelers; I loved baseball. We moved around a bunch when I was young, so I never got to start playing Little League until I was almost 13. My first season, I had one base hit (a triple, thank you very much), with a batting average Mendoza would laugh at; sub .100. I had never had a pitch thrown at me in my life, outside of underhanded softball, but I COULD field, throw, and run the bases. I worked hard to get better at my hitting. I would spend hours hitting a ball across the empty field across the street, then hit it back; rinse and repeat.

It paid off, my next season I hit above .500, and started every game. We finished second after losing the championship game, the only loss we suffered that season. The season before, we didn't win any. I had a confidence in myself; pride in what I felt I had accomplished. I turned myself into a baseball phenom. HA. We moved shortly after that season, to another state. I was no longer anyone's top draft pick; I was nobody. I signed up for senior league, landed on a team where I couldn't get on the field to save my butt. Coach had kids on the team, relatives with kids on the team, friends with kids on the team... I tried to take on that challenge. I knew if I outplayed them in practice, eventually the coaches would see I was worth playing.

We had moved into a quaint, little trailer park. Our yard was approx. 8x50? and that was split both front and rear, because you shared lots with neighbors. There were no fields to practice in. I had to rely on team practices for everything. I was usually one of the last called in for batting practice. Defensively, I was a middle infielder/centerfielder; the only time I saw in the field were at the corners, or right-field. Game time consisted of last inning, because everyone has to play, spot appearances. Usually, I saw my game opportunities squandered pinch-running for a pitcher or slower player.

Any blade that is never sharpened, will eventually go dull. My timing was off at the plate, and I often found myself out-of-position because I was playing out of position. I had spent that season looking forward to School tryouts, assuring myself I would have a fair-er shot at proving myself. I did, unfortunately my skills had diminished. I know I wasn't the player I used to be. I made it until final cuts, and accepted an ivitiation to manage equipment. Through that role, I found various opportunties to fill empty spots during practice. I remember once, the coach pointing out the way I charged balls at shortstop, when teaching fundamentals. I didn't have many friends that day, when the equipment manager was showing the baseball team how to charge a groundball.

This fed my ego, and I did see a lot more practice time; I was getting back in to form. I showed up to tryouts the next season in the best shape of my life. I finished fourth in the distance run, first in the hitting drill, and was in the 2nd best pairing in distance throws. The same coach was in place from the year before. I knew I was going to finally play for a real team. . . .I got cut the first day. I asked for an explanation, and got none. Simply the offer to manage again that season. I declined. Baseball broke my heart, and I never wanted to see it again.

I realize, now as an adult, that some of my disappointment was fueled by my father's insistance that my coaches were idiots. He would get into "discussions" with my senior league, wanting to know why his son wasn't getting his playing time. He would come to the school games I was managing, simply to heckle my coach whenever something went wrong. Back then, I felt his anger was justified. Today, looking back with a perspective lens; I see that perhaps it wasn't. These coaches didn't see me play, when my skills were at their best. I would try to tell my school coaches about my stats, but these numbers were now going on 2 years old. Perhaps to them, what I was able to show, wasn't enough for them to consider me a viable asset to the team. I never considered the idea that perhaps there were too many guys, and not enough roster spots. We discuss this every offseason about guys that will make the 53, or the PS; never thinking about what is going on with the guys we cut and throw away.

To this day, I can't stand to watch baseball for more than ten minutes. I follow the Pirates record, and get my facebook updates; but I don't follow them with the dedication I reserve for my Steelers. Am I wrong for transfiguring my love for baseball into a hate with no chance for parole; definitely, but I can't help it. The sport I loved, didn't love me back, as is the case with most people and their first romantic interests. This was the first time in my life, I was told I wasn't good enough, so I wasn't allowed to do something I loved to do. I didn't handle it as well as I would have later in life, but I wouldn't deal with it better as an adult, had it not been for the disappointment of my youth.

Video games use adaptive "AI", games adjust their difficulties to the player's skill level. We give consolation trophies identical to championship trophies. Games with definitive victors are slowly eliminated, unless they are of a team nature. The word Loser has become more of an insult than a word describing someone who scored less points than the winner. Nobody wants to be a loser. If you get cut trying out for sports, you're a loser. My father never called me a loser, and I don't think he felt I was either. He had seen me play in my prime, he knew what I was capable of. He knew how hard I had worked. Yet, when he would stand there toe-to-toe with my senior league coach, using 4 letter words I didn't know he knew; He was trying to keep me from being a loser. Perhaps, if we raised our kids to realize that winning isn't everything, we would see a generally more tempered outlook. In cases of parents going so far as to threaten coaches, perhaps they suffered some similar disappointment, and subsequent embarrasment of their own. Perhaps, they were a loser. Perhaps he was a winner, finding his offspring to be a loser, taking it out on external targets. Perhaps, if we had foresight like our hindsight, we would realize one moment in time, is not the end of the world......well, unless it's the end of the world.

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